To Cull or Not to Cull, Caw Crow Lovers

According to popular media, so-called scientists in the U.K. plan to execute a cull of thousands of corvids in a bid to save songbird populations.  Many of us in the community, which include scientists, rehabilitators and amateurs alike, are wondering when these scientists forgot that crows, magpies and jackdaws are songbirds too. The ‘dramatic decline in farm and woodland birds in the last 50 years’ has been tenuously linked with crows, although no hard evidence has been furnished nor has there been comment on exactly which farm and woodland birds are at stake. As is usual in bias case, an objective viewpoint regarding other factors such as climate change, human encroachment, and feral species has not been offered either. To make matters worse, political interests are involved, granting wind farm owners a strong voice in adding peregrines and other protected birds to the list.

One article mentions the concern focusing on sparrow declines while another suggests Skylark issues. The sparrow decline is a sad story indeed, but one that has been ongoing for nearly a century, without any change in corvid behavior or population. According to a recent special run by the BBC, the primary threat under study now is not the cunning crow, but is the human element. Feeding behaviors causing dependency, the sparrow’s poor adaptability and the human introduction of the obnoxious wild asian parakeet which is rising in population as much as 30% per year. As reported by BBC news, “The population boom has been put down to a series of mild winters, a lack of natural predators, food being available from humans and that there are now enough parrots for a wider range of breeding partners.”

An RSPB spokesman said there was no evidence crows and magpies are behind the decline in numbers of songbirds. ‘The fall is driven by changes in the countryside,’ he said, ‘principally, a lack of nesting areas, a lack of food for chicks and a lack of food in winter. The robin population has increased by 52 per cent since 1970, long-tailed tits have increased by 89 per cent and the great tit species by 90 per cent.’

From the New York Times:

The £100,000 trial cull, due to start in March, has exposed a deep rift between two rival bird conservation groups, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Songbird Survival.

The RSPB rejects claims that avian predators are responsible for the decline in species such as the tree sparrow, corn bunting and yellowhammer, numbers of which have more than halved since 1970. It insists that the main cause of songbird decline is intensive farming, which has robbed songbirds of their habitat and food sources. It also argues that a widespread cull of crows and magpies could be illegal.

Songbird Survival questions whether farming practices are the main cause of the decline, pointing out that it has continued despite the billions of pounds paid to farmers in the past decade to protect bird habitats.

Between 2003 and 2008, there was a fall in farmland bird numbers of 7 per cent, according to figures published last week by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Populations of the main predators of songbirds have doubled in the past 30 years. Sparrowhawks, which kill an estimated 50 million songbirds a year, have increased by 152 per cent to 40,100 breeding pairs. Magpies, which raid nests, steal eggs and kill chicks, have increased by 98 per cent.

Nick Forde, a trustee of Songbird Survival, accused the RSPB of pandering to its members’ squeamishness. He said: “The well-established conservation charities rely very heavily on legacies. How many old ladies would want to leave their money to an organisation that goes round killing birds? There are a lot of vested interests who resist the idea of managing wildlife. But if we don’t we are going to lose our biodiversity.”

An RSPB spokesman said: “There are dark forces at work here. There is a lot of rhetoric going on about all our songbirds being eaten by nasty predators. We think these declines are driven by changing farming practices. Birds have been trying to outwit each other for millions of years. It’s an arms race between birds of prey and songbirds and there’s a natural balance.”

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 permitted landowners to control crows, magpies and some other corvids for specific reasons, such as protecting game birds, the spokesman said. But he added that the law did not permit a widespread cull. Killing a sparrowhawk is punishable by a pounds 5,000 fine and up to six months in prison.

The trial cull of crows and magpies will be carried out by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, which is considering sites in Hampshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Herefordshire and the Scottish Borders.

Use the following graphics on social sites or your own  website where you want to spread the word to help educate humans about the effect of climate and habitat change on birds. Where myth and villianization are lifted, our intelligent friends can be left to evolve as the planet sees fit.  You can link back to this post using the full URL or this tinyurl:



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